Engineers, who are set to bring Port Hedland port to a standstill with a strike, claim excessive overtime is putting them at serious risk, including one worker who fell asleep on the job.
The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers said engineers employed by Teekay Shipping at the port, which channels $100 million in iron ore exports a day, will stop work for four-hours on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday mornings.
The pay deal dispute primarily concerns its claims of excessive overtime, but the engineers are also seeking pay rises of 3.5 per cent a year.
AIMPE senior national organiser Andrew Williamson said Teekay was refusing its requests to employ an extra six tugboat crews, each with a captain, a general purpose deckhand and an engineer.
He said while the engineers were appropriately remunerated with overtime penalties, many were suffering serious fatigue at being forced to regularly work more than twelve hours at a time.
"Let's be clear about one thing, our members don't want this overtime," he said.
"We have had an example of one of our members doing an 18-hour shift this year, and one person… fell asleep at the wheel.
"Thankfully he did not get hurt, but this has got to stop."
The engineers earn $225,000 in base salaries for rosters which include 28 days on the job, followed by an equal amount of time off. The highly qualified job requires at least eight calendar years experience at sea.
Teekay Shipping has been contacted for comment.
Port Hedland is Australia's biggest port by volumes shipped, exporting about 300 million tonnes of mainly iron ore from miners including BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group, BC Iron and Atlas Iron to mainly China and Japan.